You Wash, I'll Dry

Q Magazine

They're sisters, they live together in a specially tidied flat and their dad had a Number 1.

As if by magic, they're big in Indonesia and "working" with Dave Stewart, notching up - unusually for him - hits. Paul Elliott pops round for a cuppa.

"We don't cook," admits Karen Poole, rummaging around between soup tins and packets of Sustain cereal ("keeps you regular"). She's in the kitchen of the Central London flat she shares with ruby-haired kid sister Shellie, the other half of "top pop" duo Alisha's Attic. "If we do cook anything, it's straight out of a packet. Boil in the bag, mate. All we really eat is toast."

The scene is almost a duplicate of the cover of the sisters' first album Alisha Rules The World, where they stand over a messy kitchen sink. Except that this rented flat is, well, rather more posh that you might expect of these two seemingly feisty Essex girls. It is also exceptionally clean and tidy.

"It's not always like this," Karen confesses as she wanders, Through The Keyhole-style, on a tour of their airy two-bedroom domicile. "We've had a bit of a clean-up."

She is not kidding. The anticipated madcap bohemian pop-star detritus - piles of clothes, shoes, CDs, overflowing ashtrays, wine bottles and sundry girlie stuff - is nowhere to be found. Instead, there is neatness all around in the house of Alisha. The black-and-white-tiled bathroom positively gleams.

"I clean the toilet," Shellie beams. "Have you tried Toilet Duck? It's fantastic. I am completely fanatical about cleaning toilets and baths." "Actually," big sister sneers, "she leaves a rim of red scum every time she gets out of the bath." "It's a beauty stain," huffs the redhead.

The pair have lived in this well-appointed apartment for a year, but they've hardly been here, preferring instead both "there" and "everywhere", promoting an album which has already produced three Top 20 UK hits (I Am I Feel, Alisha Rules The World, and Indestructible). When you're big in Indonesia and your gold-certified album has spent more than 20 weeks in the UK Top 40, there's no time to sit at home watching EastEnders.

Unromantically, it all began in Dagenham, where the sisters sang in a church choir. Karen and Shellie are the daughters of Brian Poole, former leader of Brian Poole & The Tremeloes (four Top 10 hits 1963-'64 including the Number 1, Do You Love Me, before Poole's backing band went on to greater success), but there was little parental pressure on them to get up on a stage. By the time the girls were born, the old man had returned to the family butcher shop.

Between church choiring and Alisha's Attic, there were "nine years of crap". At weekends, Karen and Shellie would sing backing vocals for no-hope bands in venues even Steve Lamacq doesn't frequent, such as the Ilford Cauliflower. To make ends meet, the girls worked in a toy shop and a nursery school before resorting to benefit scams. On Tuesday nights, when all their mates were hitting the bright lights of Dagenham, "Kaz and Shel" were with their old friend Terry Martin at his dad's house, up in the attic, writing songs. Using a second-hand desk and microphones fixed up with a pair of tights, the trio cut numerous demo tapes, all rejected by record companies, until finally, they came up with the songs that would form the debut album.

"That's our attic," gushes Shellie. "It's our magical little place. We still write in there. It's still the best place." Alisha, on the other hand, is a character dreamed up by the sisters, a cherub with horns as well as a halo, which, notes Karen sagely, tells you a little about the Poole sisters. Songs ready and willing, Alisha's Attic needed a producer.

"The record company asked who we wanted," remembers Shellie. "We asked for someone low key, really not famous. The Managing Director said, Ooh, Dave Stewart's been in the office, he's listened to your tape and he'd love to meet you. And we were like, Dave Stewart?! Oh no. He's far too famous. But we really wanted to meet him and we loved Shakespear's Sister and Eurythmics."

"We went to Covent Garden where he's got this million-pound pad," Karen grins. "Me and Shel had never met anyone famous before. The walls were all pink glitter and he was standing at the end of the hall with this weird hairdo, like a mad professor. We connected like we'd known him for ages. He's mad, but in a cool way."

The unlikely combination of Essex girls and mad professor created an album full of sexy, quirky pop music, not unlike Alanis Morissette or even Prince protegees Wendy & Lisa. It has also made mini-celebrities of "Kaz" and "Shel".

Some pop stars may try to bury their past, but not Alisha's Attic. They are proud to be Essex girls. "It's nicer here in London, but I've still got my flat in Dagenham," declares Karen. "My boyfriend lives there. It's a council flat, £40 a week. It's got woodchip walls. Magnolia woodchip - you can't beat it darlin'. It's just so cheap! I've decorated the whole flat with it. But this is much more cool, innit? We did live apart for eight years, but I ended up getting a flat two doors down from Shel. We used to spend ages on the phone because we couldn't be bothered to run up the road in our slippers. She had a blue door, I had a green door."

Don't they ever get sick of each other? "We piss each other off like you do in any relationship," continues Karen. "It's just little sisterly bickering things. She's like a fly on me bum." "As kids, we were pretty much inseparable," Shellie recalls. "She's 14 months older than me (Shellie is 25, Karen 26), and we always used to walk everywhere holding hands until we were about 15."

"I win every argument," Karen insists. "She's just so floaty. It's like she's in a bubble and it drives me insane." "I'm not in a bubble," Shellie sniffs. "I just don't like details." Shellie has a few phobias. "I'm not really a good eater," she admits. "Everything has to be in order on my plate. If I order a jacket potato and the beans are on the potato, I can't eat it. I have a real problem with it."

"Net curtains as well," Karen groans. "It's not just net curtains, it's everything," Shellie lets out a panicky laugh. Clearly, it's time to leave. Karen rolls her eyes as she sees Q to the door.

"Remember - Toilet Duck," Shellie shouts after us.

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